We live and move and are still in a series of interlocking and overlaid spaces, none of which can be abstracted from the other. The temporalities that govern and constitute these spaces are complex and enfolded. What I write now, online, is more or less immediately available all over the world, to unimaginable numbers of interlocuters. Time and space have, in this sense, contracted. And time itself has at once, paradoxically, become more compact and more diffuse. As I write now online, in this present of my writing, I engage the future perfect: this writing will have been. To publish online is to open Pandora’s box. The infinite reproducibility of the text, its proliferation and circulation (in fragments or in its integrity) contribute to the legacy of the text that survives the obliteration of the original. We’re all acutely aware of this. The internet affords us the opportunity to spread our words and images as we have never been able before, but we know that what we make available online is at once insecure (in terms of intellectual property and the integrity of the text or image) and durable (in the sense that once it has been published online, it is virtually impossible to erase – it becomes an obdurate fact, threatening always to leak into the refreshed present). This is not, of course, a new thought. But what I would like to note here is how the technologies we use to communicate and disseminate our thoughts have the effect of temporalising space and of spatialising time. My present is the present of the globe; and yet that present remains multifarious. I encounter in my present presents which are not my own, and which cannot be reduced to my own. The present of communication constellates, rather than homogenizes. In the encounter between my present and that of my interlocuters, new lines of flight are produced, projecting other futures and unpredictable meanings. Also at stake, of course, in this encounter of presents is the (shared and contested) meaning of the past.
We can no longer speak only of a space-time contraction. What we are talking about here is something infinitely more vertiginous, like the effect produced by Hitchock’s signature dolly zoom (in French, le trans-trav). Our perspective dramatically changes (what was here is now there, what was there is now here) while our locational, embodied existence remains the same. We struggle very viscerally (for this does not take place, in the first instance at least, at the level of reflection) to make sense of the conflicting clues that present to us as we write and engage online, with others. Here, we occupy that very space ‘where bodies cannot be fully anchored in the site they occupy’ (Christine Ross, 2012).
Another effect of this spatialisation-temporalisation is to create a sense of openness, of vulnerability. While I am here (in this room, in front of this computer), I do not know where and when you are. I am not talking here about the collapse of Euclidean space, but the disjointed plurality of spaces (national, cultural, juridical, judicial, virtual, topological) that extend beyond and point back towards me, temporally deferred, always possible, never certain. What kind of relations do I develop with others who are more or less relational to me in that space where the physically/corporeally located conflagrates with the virtual? What kinds of assemblage are produced (or constituted already) between technology and the users of technology? Between me (a subject who writes – who will have written) and you?
The internet and social media have produced a commons that is not in itself, but articulates and produces itself continuously. This commons is un/written and coded into being every day. It is a political space, in that it brings a community into play. It is unequally distributed and it is far from being uniformly shared. But what interests me here is specifically the way in which the online commons configures the relationship between you and me. It is easy to think that in the era of ‘selfies’, blogging, micro-blogging and social media more generally we have become a generation of narcissists, concerned only with promoting ourselves, our image and our views online. And yet, as Jean-Luc Nancy wrote in The Inoperative Community (published in the original French as La Communauté désoeuvrée in1986; English translation by Peter Connor et al, 1991), ‘the mode of existence and appropriation of a “self” (which is not necessarily, nor exclusively, an individual) is the mode of an exposition in common and to the un-common’; ‘“To be exposed” means to be “posed” in exteriority, according to an exteriority, having to do with an outside in the very intimacy of an inside’ (xxxvii). To have access to what is proper to my own existence requires an expropriation, ‘“my” face always exposed to others, always turned toward an other and faced by him or her, never facing myself’ (xxxvii).
So as I write, right here, right now, I expose myself to you. What I write (my face) will be reassembled in the no/w/here. There are many reasons I write this, and these involve no small sense of disciplinary anxiety, a sense of exposure, of being adrift in a sea of transversal spaces. Of not really knowing who I am (for me, for you) anymore.